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Meet Marilynn Montaño

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marilynn Montaño.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Marilynn. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My writing journey began when I bought my first journal at a Scholastic Book Fair in 4th grade. I treated my journal like a family member, and I would sign off at the end of the page with my name in cursive and heart shapes all around. In those first pages, I wrote that I wanted to be a writer- but I didn’t realize that with that first affirmation to myself, I already was a writer.

Growing up, the first books I grew love for were Junie B. Jones, Charlotte’s Web, and Esperanza Rising. I thank my ama who took my siblings and I to the local library in my neighborhood at that time. My family has lived in small spaces due to high rents in Orange County, so during the summer, my ama took my siblings out to the library for fresh air conditioning and to continue learning during our summer breaks from school. During one of those summers, I joined a free creative writing program called Barrio Writers and finally read stories written by writers of color. Amazing librarian staff, like Zulma Zepeda and David Lopez, encouraged me to write stories my own stories. This was the first time I was encouraged to publicly share my writing outside of my journals, and I kept going back to the Barrio Writers summer writing workshops for that nurturing and creative community.

My writing advisor Iuri Morales Lara gifted me: Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua and Women Writing Resistance, Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean edited by Jennifer Browdy De Hernandez. These books began my journey to read more writers of color that I was not being exposed to enough in high school.

Barrio Writers was where I started shedding my shyness and writing creatively. The mentorship I gained from Barrio Writers founder Sarah Rafael Garcia has forever impacted my life as an emerging writer of color. Within five years, I went from a writing participant to a writing advisor and program director of Barrio Writers in Orange County.

I led writing workshops and met other emerging writers from other Orange County cities. I helped launch new Barrio Writers chapters in Arizona and Texas. When I was not a Barrio Writer after school, I took journalism classes at Godinez Fundamental High School. My teacher Mrs. Feuerborn helped me get an internship at the Orange County Register, and I wrote for their OC Latino Link section that summer of 2011. After being the first in my family to graduate from high school in 2012, I went to Santa Ana Community College. I then later interned for Voice of OC and OC Weekly. In 2013, I received the OC Press Club Award for Best Public Affairs/Education Story that I co-authored on housing insecurities in Orange County.

Throughout the years, I have facilitated poetry workshops for the Anarchist Bookfair in Orange County, Orange County’s Zine Festival, UC Santa Barbara’s Women of Color Conference and other local events in my city.

My poetry has been featured in Barrio Writers Anthology 2nd to 6th edition, Mujeres de Maíz, Santanero Zine, Seeds of Resistance Zine, Los Angeles Water Works: Histories of Water and Place, Chachalaca Review, and in an upcoming Selena Anthology by FlowerSong Books. Recently, I self-published a collection of poems in a zine called Root that honors home.

Now I am a self-proclaimed writer, and I want to keep nourishing and not lose that creative and inventive part of myself. I work as a barista and book advisor in downtown Santa Ana, and this is where I began to journal my working experiences and as an observer in my city through the commutes to and from work on public transportation. Every day is a writing opportunity for me to document and then revisit my notes for poetry inspiration and material. I am currently working on a full-length manuscript of poems to send to publications this year, poetry broadsides, more zines, and writing workshops for my community.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Every month, I lead creative writing workshops in Santa Ana often on my own dime. I purposefully facilitate in open spaces, such as public parks and community farms, for free to my community. At times, it is hard to do this because I am low-income and work more than one job to sustain myself and my family. My own depression and burnout from community organizing spaces led me to walk away and create new spaces for myself and other people. Misogyny, ageism, and patriarchy still exist in, so rather than wait for people to listen to me, I had to start creating the world I want to live in with others who share the same vision. I refused to feel like I was not enough because I knew that I had so much to offer my community.

Marilynn Montaño – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I birthed Mi Palabra, Mi Comunidad Writing Workshop Series this past Fall on my own. I wanted to create a welcoming experience for youth and adults in my community to write about topics that range from documenting your local surroundings to journaling as self-care to writing about what home means to the self. What makes this so special is that I facilitate my free writing workshops in open spaces, like parks or gardens, and writers of all ages and stages write in the open air with plants around for stress relief.

At the end of the Fall series, I had an open mic at LibroMobile, the bookstore I work at, to celebrate workshop participants and watch them step into the mic themselves and share among community members, family, and friends. All the workshop participants are a growing family of writers. It is okay if you just want to write for yourself or want to pursue submitting to publications. It is important for me to continue to create these spaces because I want emerging writers like myself to know their voices matter. Whether you have a degree or not, it is possible to be a writer. I want to create the same welcoming experience that other writers and artist mentors provided me with for other people. Writing poetry is medicine and I hope others can experience that through writing. I announce my writing workshops every month on my social media, where I also share my journey as a writer as well. My May workshop will focus on writing to Dear Future Self, through collage journaling for free that will take place at Jerome Park in Santa Ana, CA.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is creating what makes you happy and when you share space for others to create their own. There is no right or wrong, especially as a writer. Just write.

Contact Info:

  • Email: marilynnmontano@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @lospiesitos
  • Twitter: @marilynnmontano

Image Credit:
William Camargo, Savannah Muñoz, Angeles Abigail Marin

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